Grayson Navy Letters Home

by Joelle Presby
(artwork by Thomas Pope)

Grayson Space Navy

[Post to Tester’s Blessings on the GSN private forum.]
[October 1921]

Everyone, Ladies, and Whoever,

My sister, Ensign Cecelie Rustin, Grayson Navy sent this. Cecelie just got her Grayson Navy commission, and our whole family is super proud of her. She’s quick to point out to us that she isn’t the first at anything, but she’s the only woman I know in our Navy. Sure, I did see Rear Admiral Mercedes Brigham at a lecture once, but that was because Cecelie brought me along with all of our Moms in her campaign to convince the family that she should be allowed to apply for the Academy. Of course Admiral Brigham charmed the Moms and left them absolutely convinced that we all had to go fight what with the threats to the families of Grayson from Masada before and Haven now. The sentiment didn’t last all that long, but it was enough to get the Moms’ support in convincing Father to let her apply to Saganami Island. Her very first ship is the GNS Manasseh, a Joseph-class destroyer, and Cecelie is one of two female officers assigned there. Before she left, she promised our Moms to write every week, and she promised to tell me what is really going on. She really does send the messages on secured comms like she threatened, but I know you’ve all been wondering what it’s really like out there. With Haven finally beaten back, with so many star systems so close by through the Manticore Junction, and with all those interesting counter piracy missions or security patrols possible, maybe you are thinking about trying to join too. At least, I’m thinking about thinking about it. So anyway, I’m just retyping this up for you and uploading.

Don’t forward. Cecelie would freak.

-Suleia


[Reposted to Tester’s Blessings on the GSN private forum.]
[August 1921]

Suleia,

Don’t tell the Moms, this first posting is pretty awful. Remember those rich, handsome Manticoran men who would visit Grayson to check on investments and sometimes get invited over for dinner? My ship’s officers (the wardroom, you know) are all completely normal Graysons, but we have this one Manticoran officer on some kind of exchange program. (It is sort of like how we got Rear Admiral Brigham. Except, Brigham is wonderful, and we get to keep her. This guy is not so much, and we get to give him back to the RMN after two more years.)

Think back to those guys in maybe their mid fifties, who looked about twenty-two with all that prolong, and imagine them cleaned up in a nice formal RMN uniform. Got that picture? Good. Keep the uniform. Other than that make it pretty much opposite. He’s ugly, and he’s constantly flirting. Apparently, my ship got a Manty who thinks that because a bunch of our families have multiple wives, every Grayson female would be delighted to have an affair with his married self. Ug. I avoid him. It is making it harder to do my job, but I’ll manage. There are ship systems that I need to learn as a new officer and to prove that I am qualified on them I have to get senior people like him to log in the computer that I know stuff. He has a reputation of giving away those checks easily for the ensigns willing to work with him. He doesn’t press himself on the guys at all, so he’s okay for them.

Maybe he isn’t actually that ugly on the outside. He does have prolong, and my roommate, Claire, didn’t think he was ugly, but then she met him. Claire graduated a year ahead of me, but they had her working on Blackbird at first. I think they had to arrange for us to be on the same ship to work out the staterooms since there are not a lot of female GSN officers in the junior ranks. Claire went to the Manty for a check on system knowledge. He signed, but Claire said she was really glad that one of the chiefs stopped by and stayed in the ship space the whole time. Otherwise, she might have been up on charges for assaulting a senior officer. Obviously, Claire no longer thinks he’s attractive. It was the fastest I’ve ever seen her change an opinion of someone.

The Manty objects to our uniforms being ankle lengths. I hate agreeing with someone like him, but I confess that I have not worn the regular skirts once since we left orbit. Most of the male officers have spent the money on the better-looking smart fabric uniforms, but those aren’t available for women below command rank yet. The split skirts are so much more practical for getting around.

(I know the Moms were so proud of themselves and the other ladies of the Barbara Bancroft Society for the success of their petition to the GSN Uniform Board to add skirts to dress uniforms and split skirts to working uniforms, but sometimes I wish I had spent my uniform allowance on the trouser option instead. I understand that they feel a lady defending her nation like Barbara Bancroft did should be able to do it in skirts like a true lady. It’s just that, well, I admit I have not actually seen Fleet Admiral Alexander-Harrington in a GSN uniform. But, Claire did once, and Our Harrington definitely wore the pants version. Unfortunately, since I’m not a big hero and an admiral and a Steadholder, I kind of need all the respect I can get. Looking like I am not pretending to be a guy helps. I think. Try not to let the Moms or their friends know that Fleet Admiral Alexander-Harrington isn’t wearing the skirts they pushed so hard for her to have.  I’m wearing them.)

Even so, the full skirts are absolutely impossible in variable gravities and even the split skirts require some modification. Please, please remember to send more elastic bands and utility tape with the next care package. If you can match the tape to the uniforms, you will be my favorite sibling for the next century. I know our Moms mean well, but they sent elastic cording and a sewing kit. To me! You would think after raising me all these years they would realize that my chromosomes did not start me out as a seamstress and none of their nurture has been able to turn me into one. My uniforms have to pass inspection, and no, that does not inspire me to learn to sew now any more than decades attending temple in my own sack dresses inspired me to sew better then. Thankfully, I have Claire. (Yes, she’s the roommate with the initially poor taste, but she is none-the-less, wonderful.) No, she does not sew either, but better yet, neither did her Moms. It is almost amazing what can be done to make a uniform null gravity safe with the deft application of rubber bands and tapes of the appropriate shades of blue. We’ve almost used her stash up, though. So, again, I need your assistance. There are rumors that the uniform board is going to come up with something that doesn’t require modifications to function or maybe even expand the selection of smart fabric uniforms available, but there just aren’t very many of us yet. It will probably take a good couple decades to get it all worked out and through that bureaucracy.

Ever Yours,
Cecelie

P.S. Do not let the Moms or anyone else in the Barbara Bancroft Society start another letter writing campaign! Don’t even think about it, Suleia!


DD-12 GNS Manasseh[Reposted to Tester’s Blessings on the GSN private forum.]
[November 1921]

Suleia,

Today was absolutely amazing! First you need context though: my boss is somewhat dreadful. (He’s not as bad as the Manty or pretty much any Masadan, but don’t ever let the Moms invite him to dinner.) So, I have a nasty boss, but, Sweet Petunias, my chief is wonderful! (I have taken to making up fake curses. It annoys the Manty, but I’ve found that if I don’t keep it up all the time, it is harder to remember to sprinkle them into my conversation when he’s around. It was Claire’s idea. She’s great at finding polite ways to deal with day-to-day nastiness.)

I’m in charge of the lasers, but the historical job description is ‘Gunnery Officer’. I think the department heads got together when they found out they were getting a pair of female ensigns and decided to come up with the job positions that would result in the most sexual jokes possible and gave the suggestions to the captain as a joke. And then he took them up on it and ever since they have been struggling with tight constipated looks to keep from laughing every time they call on us. I am not telling you Claire’s title. It is an acronym that sounds bad. I’ll leave it at that. Claire and I are both pretending we have no idea with the wardroom, but with our own guys we are going by Ms. Rustin and Ms. Lecroix to avoid having to charge anyone with misconduct towards a superior officer. But, whatever, the joke is on them. When we can’t get stuff done in Blackbird because the maintenance guys are rolling around chortling about the Gunnery Officer, the department heads are the ones who have to explain to the captain that the part wasn’t there. So, the repairs weren’t done. And so, we can’t depart on time all because they forgot that the people outside the ship are going to be laughing it up at our expense too.

But they are going to listen now! Okay, no, they aren’t. Mostly I’m going to keep smiling and playing along with stupid jokes even when I don’t think they are funny, and finding the least repugnant people to deal with and plying them with baked goods from the Moms to keep my division’s supplies of spare parts flowing. I do not, I might add, share those nutty brownies with anyone but Claire. We claim the best of the care packages for ourselves. The second tier of food goes to the most helpful people on Blackbird most of whom are Claire’s contacts from her year working there. I’ve lost another 2 kilos on this cruise, because I keep missing meals when watches don’t line up right and the stuff on mid rations is too disgusting to eat. So don’t stop sending nutty brownies or any of the rest. Your care packages are defending the star system. (I am only partially kidding about that.)

Anyway, those supply runs and Claire’s contacts really paid off. We had backups for our backups. It was getting time for our laser qualifications, and Chief explained to me all the stuff that messes up the targeting. The lasers are fired in the corona of Yeltsin’s Star for the test because in combat if we ever actually had to use them there would be erratic bursts of radiation everywhere from the battle. Simulating a battle with actual munitions is rather expensive, so we use the star. Apparently the targeting computer autocompensator has to add in this ton of minor variables to make micro adjustments for everything. Well, as the Gunnery Officer, I go to the scheduling meetings with all the department heads when I have a major activity that needs to get fitted into the ship’s schedule. Do you remember how I had all those free electives during senior form at Saganami Island, because I had tested out of a bunch of the early astro-nav classes? Well if you don’t remember, I did, and so I did. I took both of the heliophysics classes because the name sounded impressive and they turned out to be all about exo-atmospheric weather, which is mostly completely irrelevant to warfare, but for this particular test, is exactly what those autocomps are working so hard to correct for. But, even the autocomps can’t correct for everything completely perfectly. Stuff changes continually, and the models are designed for much smaller radiation source points from weapons so a star is a real challenge. When we actually shoot at something, we’ll shoot a lot and the number that hit will have more to do with volume of fire, ranges, shielding, and enemy countermeasures. But when every ship in the fleet goes and does the annual laser qualification, everyone shoots the same number of shots from exactly the same ranges. You get to pick your day as long as some other ship hasn’t gotten it first. If all your maintenance is perfect, you get your ship in the top quarter of the fleet.

(It is just like having that irritating balance and decorum race of blowing your own little soap bubble with little puffs of air to push it across the girl’s gymnasium for elementary science class. If you mixed the bubble solution well enough to get a bubble, you pretty much just have a bubble and no one’s is enough better than anyone else’s to matter. So it is just luck and patience that determines who can get it the farthest before it pops. But as a moderately competitive girl, you also know you should take your turn at the end of the gymnasium away from people who might walk into your precious little bubble and away from the drafts by the doors that might pop it prematurely by pushing it back into your face, just as a completely random example.)

So, once Chief explained the whole laser qualification test to me, I looked up when the winners had tested for the last decade. Chief had already marked off the obvious bad test dates with high-predicted sun spot activity and the like. I went back through my files from the heliophysics classes. I found the most perfect day possible. I admit, if only to you, that it took me a solid week of all my off watch time and even included one day in port when I could have gone off on liberty but didn’t. Don’t tell anyone about that. I pretended to be sick. It isn’t done to not leave the ship at every conceivable opportunity, no matter how dirty and scary the liberty planet is. I mean it; don’t tell. I stayed on board and ate real food that I had stocked up on when I went down the day before. I pored through the ship’s computer database, put in some inter ship library loans, and found the relevant data maps. It was all completely open source stuff that you just had to know to look for. I found a day with the least change in any of the targeting factors, and we scheduled it. Chief must have made the division take apart those laser mounts down to lug nuts and circuit boards and rebuild them. (I don’t think the guns actually have lug nuts or circuit boards anywhere in them, but I’m sort of afraid to ask for fear that Chief will make the guys tear them down again just to let me see some tiny nano-scale lug nuts somewhere in the molecular circuitry.) But however he did it, the guys had those lasers functioning perfectly, and when they did the day’s firing run, we scored the highest in the last five years. Six years ago, a new construction ship with the laser system install engineers still onboard did better, by a little. We still have several months yet in the award cycle year for the Fleet Gunnery Award, so someone could still beat us. But for the moment, your sister is the division officer of the Best Laser Crew in the Grayson Space Navy. The whole ship just thinks I’m some kind of psychic since I insisted on that date for the range and wouldn’t change what I wanted no matter what. None of the department heads ever asked me why that date was best beyond the obvious low sunspots, so I never went into the details of explaining. Claire knows, of course, but she’s keeping quiet. And the XO figured it out, I think. After the results came in from the range, he asked if I had studied under Prof. Sharpely at Saganami Island. That was the heliophysics professor. Prof. Sharpely was semi-retired and didn’t teach anything else. The XO doesn’t seem to be telling anyone. I think the captain knows too, because he has been laughing when the XO rags on my department head about my woman’s sense and wants to know why my boss can’t pull of stuff like that with his other divisions.

It has been a good day. Chief is the best. My guys are ecstatic. I wrote up a bunch of personal awards for the sailors who Chief said have been doing particularly well or did a lot of extra work for laser mount system groom before the test. That was Claire’s suggestion. The XO approved every award, and the captain gave out the awards in a full ship ceremony just a few hours ago.

Yours,
Cecelie


[Reposted to Tester’s Blessings on the GSN private forum.]
[December 1921]

Suleia,

We had to put in to a Masada station today. It wasn’t the planet itself, of course. It’s just a miserable excuse for an orbital yard to pick up some parts from the Manty post and drop off a few Manty ship riders we had been carrying. It was a complete disaster. This is still supposed to be a Star Empire of Manticore protectorate, but unfortunately they let some Masadans run parts of the station.

I didn’t cry in public. I want credit for that first. And second, do not let the Moms know that there has been any crying what so ever. I don’t want to hear it about all the better career options they’ve got for me. I signed a contract. I have to live with it, even if sometimes it is awful. That is extremely important, and I can’t underline that enough, Suleia. You can never ever cry in uniform or let any of the uniformed guys see you red-eyed. Please send eye drops, by the way. I had a stock of them from Saganami Island, but after this visit, I need more. I can’t get them from medical, because then I would have to explain why they are needed. I don’t think covering up embarrassing emotions which if seen limit my ability to do the job would be something this man’s navy would be willing to subsidize anyway. Naturally, the ship’s store does not carry anything that can be gotten from the medic.

Now writing this, I just sound stupid. Quite literally nothing happened, and that nothing is what makes me so absolutely furious. I did nothing my whole watch. I had memorized all the usual docking procedure so carefully, and the station just refused to respond to me. The skipper got his back up once he realized that it was a Masadan on the orbital comms not a Manty with us having technical difficulties. He wouldn’t let anyone replace me. So I just kept parroting his announcements of what we were doing and how we were assuming clearance to dock and all this other stuff. It was really extremely rude. And my over-instruction on the comms section (the guy who was there to take over if I messed up since this was my very first time), changed our broadcast to copy to the clear, so absolutely everyone was listening. A ship like ours is supposed to dock easily at a place like this. It should have taken about a half hour with docking connections coming out a little to meet us and a couple little robot arms with fine motor control. We did it completely without assistance. It took hours and hours, so I stayed way past my regular watch length. I’m pretty sure I scratched up the side of the docking station. When it was all over, some other GSN captains on the pair of ships already docked got on the channel and laughed it up with our captain, again, completely in the clear.

Claire is maintaining that they were mocking the Masadans, and she framed a printout of the scratches on the docking station. I think if I scratched up the station, I must have scratched poor Manasseh up something fierce too. The Bosun sent a small team out to do touch-ups on our hull, which is not normal. He wouldn’t let me go, even though it was my fault.

The captain assigned escorts for Claire and me when we went about the station. It is officially Manty run, but there were a whole lot of Masadans there. Suleia, if you thought our news had made them into absurd monsters, I assure you they got it only partly wrong. A couple of them spit on the deck in front of me when I had to walk past. Some of the kiosks would not sell us food when they saw I was with the group. Finally, I stood around a passageway corner, and one guy went and got a load of sandwiches for all of us, before we tromped back aboard. Claire had had duty the first day. We both stayed on the ship the next day when the guys went out again.

When the guys came back they brought us food and the station rumors. They said that Masadans were only supposed to be operating the docking arms, and a Manty was supposed to be doing traffic control. Apparently with it being wartime, the Manties are really too short handed to keep an unimportant station like this fully manned and the people they picked to send to the station aren’t so great. The Manty who was supposed to be on watch was late back from a shore leave down to the planet and the Manty from the previous watch had just turned over to a Masadan instead of getting a proper relief. Apparently they had done it a few times before without the station commander or XO noticing. I don’t know if I really believe that, but it could be.

-Cecelie


GNS Manasseh Ballcap[Reposted to Tester’s Blessings on the GSN private forum.]
[January 1922]

Suleia,

We just got over a nasty bug of some sort, which we must have picked up at our last port visit. The nanite customizers broke during routine maintenance that was done just after we left. They really should have done that maintenance before we docked or even at the station. It is a basic crew service system, and things break during maintenance more often than not. That’s not my division, thank the Tester, because the parts needed to get it up and running again could have been just pulled off the shelf at the station if the work had been done earlier. But everyone in that division must have been too focused on going on liberty to stay and do some routine, if exceedingly vital, maintenance.

Before this, it wasn’t quite so obvious just how critically important every little piece of machinery is. I mean, only a few people were sick for the first day or two. And then the lines filled up at sick call. The captain had to call in some personal favors to get the parts we needed from another ship. By the time the machine was repaired, the bug had spread to most of the crew. The ship’s doc started making announcements listing symptoms to encourage people to come get the nanite shot. And then he started just calling everyone to report to medical in sections by last name just assuming everyone had it.

So, that’s how I found myself in a line outside medical with about thirty crewmen from a smattering of divisions pretty much covering the whole ship. About the disease, I can’t really tell you much, because I have no idea if I ever caught it, or not. The symptoms were severe abdominal cramping with some experiencing muscle pain in the upper legs and accompanying diarrhea. It was during my monthly. So yeah, it hurt, what else is new?

But there in front of everyone after going down the line for the ten or so men in front of me, the ship’s doc gets to me and starts with his first question: “Ensign, have you had any of the symptoms yet?” And, well, all I could do was tell him that I didn’t know. He acted completely baffled and tried asking the question a couple of different ways, and finally, I just gave up. Please don’t tell the Moms. I just explained to some thirty crewmen of the good ship Manasseh that I was having my period. Yes, of course, I was experiencing severe abdominal and upper leg pain, often referred to as cramps. And, well yes, I had had some diarrhea recently which wasn’t normally part of my period, so I might have that bug, but really, I had no idea because those pains were probably completely blocked out by my monthly. It sounded entirely like he was asking if my stubbed toe hurt when I’d walked into his sick bay with a broken arm. I must have over done it, because the poor doc was speechless. He gave me the medication regime, just in case. As you might imagine, that story made it through the crew like wildfire. My division has been laughing about it. That part is mortifying, but they are also calling me tough and sort of bragging on me. Men can be so odd. Oh, and the doc put in the order for the menstrual control nanites I had asked for when I first reported. I know that old nanites do stick around for quite a while but you have to refresh the count with infusions twice a year or so. The GSN doesn’t normally stock nanites for menstruation, apparently. The ship’s doc stopped by the other day to let me know that he would have them in a couple days on the courier ship with the backup parts for the customizers, and that the ship would maintain a stock of them from now on.

Yours,
Cecelie


[Reposted to Tester’s Blessings on the GSN private forum.]
[February 1922]

Suleia,

I put in the request to take three days off back home in Grayson like the Moms have been asking. It got approved for two months from now. Do you want to invite over those girls you said were interested in the Navy? I could spend an hour or two and answer questions. I imagine they’d really have no idea what to ask about really. I wouldn’t want them to know about the stuff I’ve been telling you. Even if they did join, every ship is different, and I wouldn’t want them to expect that every ensign gets a chief like mine.

Yours,
Cecelie


[Posted to Tester’s Blessings on the GSN private forum.]
[February 1922]

Hey all of you friends, former friends, and weirdoes who somehow got the password,

You want in, this is how it is going to be. You have to delete all the Cecelie messages, all backups, reformat the drives, and swear by something really impressive to pretend you never read a word, or I’m not giving you an invite. I mean it.

-Suleia


[Private secured communication, not reposted.]
[March 1922]

Suleia,

I know you must have heard about Blackbird. If you could find a casualty list and send it, well, it wouldn’t be good, but it would help to know. Claire knew a whole lot of those people. I knew some too, but Claire is just sort of scary comatose. She isn’t even caring if anyone sees her red eyed. Are there many lists of who was off the station and still around? Does anyone know who did it? I want to tell her that we at least know who we are fighting.

-Cecelie


[Private secured communication, not reposted.]
[March 1922]

Suleia,

I found the casualty lists. Don’t worry about it.

-Cecelie


[Private secured communication, not reposted.]
[April 1922]

Suleia,

The schedule changed. I won’t be visiting. I still can’t believe what happened to Blackbird. We’ve got new orders. We are doing some kind of escort duty on a high value passenger transfer. Things are not looking good. I still have no idea what happened. I don’t think anyone has any idea. Please make sure the family has full food stores laid up and a good stock of masks and protective gear in case the domes fail. I don’t think you should apply for Saganami Island. I need someone back there making sure the family is okay, and I know I can count on you to take things seriously.

Ever yours,
Cecelie


[Posted to Tester’s Blessings on the GSN private forum.]
[April 1922]

Friends,

Cecelie will not be visiting after all. I hope everyone stays safe.

If you lost anyone on Blackbird, my deepest condolences.

Please check on your family’s emergency supplies. Tester’s blessing to us all.

-Suleia